Reflection on the traveling mercies received between 3:00 pm on Wednesday, April 16 and 10:00 am Thursday, April 17

A sceptic might say it’s just a matter of good luck. Let them say it! We know better. We have been blessed at every turn. For one thing: your thoughts and prayers and heartfelt wishes for our safety and for our journey spur us on. For another: it cannot be denied that “the Camino provides.” Perhaps it does so because there’s something about the Camino that brings out the best aspects of human nature: goodness, kindness, compassion. Heart! The Camino seems to allow people to be their best selves, and I am not referring exclusively to pilgrims themselves but to all those people who encounter them along the way. For every one person–and I’m referring to the natives, to those whose homeland is being literally “invaded” by somewhat crazy foreigners and compatriatas alike, and who find this whole pilgrimage business both invasive and disruptive–for every one of those there are ninety-nine natives who respond with at least interest, but also with open hearts and encouragement and support. Folks who work or volunteer at the hostels, those serving in cafes and bars, even the local police like the two who drove by me this morning and asked if I needed help.

So there are many kinds of angelitos (little angels), and don’t try to convince us that a loving Father isn’t involved. We won’t buy it. The evidence is overwhelming. Whatever happens from this point forward in our journey, there is no denying that in the last 18 hours or so the heavenly hosts have been at our side and on our side.Those hours, then, call for some sharing.

Arriving in Burgos

We had heard all about it being a long haul into Burgos. We thought we had studied the maps. We thought we were keeping our eyes out for the proper signs. For the parque fluvial, the route that would bring us in by the oh-so-pleasant river pathway where we would pass mothers pushing baby carriages, old friends dando un paseo (strolling) while they solved their personal problems and those of the world, cyclists out enjoying what would be the last dry day in a while…. It would be much more pleasant than the non-river route and infinitely more pleasant than the one that would include 10 kilometers of city traffic with near-endless plodding past factories, then businesses, hundreds of stoplights and dozens of roundabouts, all the busier because it was the eve of a national holiday (Holy Thursday and Good Friday) and many people would be heading out of town. Etc., etc. To be avoided at all costs.

And perhaps you guessed it: that’s the route we ended up on. By the time we suspected that the airport wasn’t on our right-hand side the way we wanted it to be, it was too late to backtrack. We were running late, so there were no other pilgrims to catch up with or with whom to consult. We had goofed. (Let me add: many others we later came upon made the same mistake. Shame on Burgos and its environs for not providing better guidance!)

Burgos is a city of some 200,000 inhabitants. That number may or may not include the outlying area in which we lamentably found ourselves. Yes, there were still the occasional yellow pilgrim arrows that we were following. Apparently all three routes into the city are marked for pilgrims. The truth dawned. We were some 20 kilometers into our route, but still 10 kilometers–6 miles– from our destination, the city center (the old historic area by the cathedral).

And then the first angel appeared. We saw a couple of buses. One driver caught our eye and saw us searching. Searching for arrows, actually, wondering which way to cross the street. But also he could read that we were wondering about those buses and looking at them with some longing. His bus read “Gran teatro” on the front. Not that that meant anything to us. Be that as it may, he gestured to us, pointing but making a kind of semi-circle or arch with his whole arm. We weren’t exactly sure what he meant by his gestures, but we tried to follow them, nonetheless. And then we saw it, just on the other side of the round-about: an official bus stop. One or two people already on the bus when, a minute or two later, it pulled up to that stop. It must have just started its trajectory towards the city center. Those on board had been watching the interaction and smiled at us as we got on the bus. (Or were they holding in their laughter as they took in my fuschia hat and rain jacket, my pack from which dangled a blue rag on one side and a large pink bandana on the other?) “Quieren la última parada,” the driver told us. “The last stop. That’s the one you want.” Worked for us! Six miles of misery bypassed. Six miles that, frankly, Ginny could not have walked. The miracles begin.

Once off the bus, a mapping program–and Ginny’s ability to use it well–to the rescue, to help us find the Airbnb. (Recognizing beyond all shadow of doubt the need for some extra attention and rest for Ginny’s knee, we had reserved it the previous night, miraculously finding something available during these national holidays. “See if you can’t find something close to the cathedral,” I had told Ginny as we both hunted on our respective Airbnb apps. Perhaps you realize that with an Airbnb, the exact location isn’t revealed until one books the spot. Our fingers were crossed when we located one called “Los picos de la catedral” (the spires of the cathedral). Well… admittedly “spires” can be seen from up close or from quite a distance, but “time” is such a precious commodity–here on the Camino as in “real life”–and we had to make a decision. We went with “los picos” and heard right away from “Jorge,” who wanted to know our approximate arrival time, etc. Hostel pricing? Hardly. The main hostel/albergue price in Burgos was an amazing 5 euro for what we later came to hear was also amazing in terms of comfort/services. Still, the Airbnb was not costly enough to break the bank and well worth it.)

What to do first? Pick up Ginny’s pack which had been sent ahead to the municipal albergue or go straight to the rented apartment?  “The apartment,” Ginny said. “I need to sit. I couldn’t carry the pack right now. Let’s get situated.” We continue onward. “But wait, Ginny, are you sure we are heading to the street Valentín Palencia? I think you have us going towards the hostel, towards Fernán González Street, towards the albergue.”

Oh, there’s Michelle from Korea! Hugs! Haven’t seen her in days. Oh, Lisa! Oh, Kelly! Rosbita! José! Carlos! Joe! Kiki! More hugs. Ginny has endeared herself to so many people! Some of these folks we had seen earlier in the day, some yesterday. Some a few days back. And here, here in this major city, we have come together again. And here we are, in front of the municipal. And there in the bar just across from it, the waiting backpack. So we weren’t heading for the apartment after all?! Darn! Now we’ll have to lug that thing to a spot that might not be close at all!… Double darn!

Oh, but we were at (or almost at) the apartment after all. Another miracle: “the picos de la catedral” was just around the corner from the albergue and at the foot of the splendid cathedral, a gem of a cathedral by anyone’s standards. You’ll see some photos at some point…. As much pain as Ginny was in, there was no better medicine for her than to be so warmly greeted by fellow pilgrims and to know that we were not only with them in spirit but also in person as we–later that evening and again for a mid-morning snack on the following day (today, the 18th), joined other pilgrims in the “bar” across from the albergue municipal, where the talk of the day revolves around handling the rain, the injuries, the pain, the route, the upcoming Meseta, the fact that Spain is on holiday and services are few… It is not yet Good Friday, but we are not strangers to the crosses which must be borne. All borne a bit more easily with a bit of sangría and a lot of good humor. Sorry, not only do I digress, but I’m getting ahead of myself in my description of the “angels” and “miracles” with which these hours were filled. Let’s return, then, to 4:00 pm on Wednesday and our arrival at the Airbnb.

Finding ourselves at the entrance to the apartment building in which our private apartment was located (a XVI-century building if I’m recalling correctly the description on the Airbnb website), we contacted Jorge and waited for him to send someone with the key. In short order his mother, Mari Carmen, arrived and let us in. “Us” now includes a third person, lovely Lisa from Australia who was thrilled to be able to spend one night with us and have a sleep-in in the morning.

As Mari Carmen opened the door she explained that she and her son (Jorge, we later saw, is a very young-looking 20-something) have just listed with Airbnb, that the previous night a single pilgrim had been their very first renter. All appliances brand new and never used. Basic but finely appointed. Plenty of light for this lover of light! Plenty of heat for this lover of both warm air and hot water! Have we died and gone to heaven?

Well, maybe into the higher ranks of Purgatory: 1) when as an afterthought we wrote to Jorge to ask how to connect with WiFi, we got the disappointing news that the apartment doesn’t have WiFi. Oh…. 2) when last night, after Ginny iced her knee with a bag of ice we got from the bar just down the street, we discovered that the fridge and freezer–cord inaccessible as the unit was wedged into an inset cubby–were apparently not plugged in. 3) Washing machine but no dryer. Even Purgatory gives “breaks” and so each of the problems have a type of solution: 1) we’ve managed to get online both at the albergue and at the bar around the corner. Just have to make our way down a rather steep stone pathway in the rain. Small enough price to pay when we hunger for communication (perhaps in another few weeks we will relish being disconnected; we’re not there yet…); 2) Jorge came by today and got the refrigerator going; 3) we figured out how to give the washing machine it’s inaugural run (I kid you not here: it ran for well over an hour!) and, though today’s rain precludes hanging our clothes on the outdoor line that accompanies our flat, we’ve rigged up some good indoor drying spaces on or near the radiators. As they say, all’s well that ends well. The above: if not outright miracles, more than adequate solutions. At the least, blessings.

Off to the hospital

But back to Wednesday afternoon. We quickly settled into the apartment, ate one of the pre-packaged croissants provided on the dining table for guests, and left to find a taxi to take us to the hospital. It was beyond time to have Ginny’s knee evaluated and have a better idea as to what was going on with it. The front desk at the nearby albergue municipal called the taxi for us and we were quickly on our way to the emergency room connected to the university’s hospital. Our taxi driver was eager to tell us about the beautiful procession that would take place the next night (Thursday, 18th, 8:00 pm). It is called “el encuentro” (the “meeting up”), when a statue of the Virgin will leave one church, one of Christ another; the two “meet up” in a timely fashion in front of the beautiful cathedral, all leading up to the Mass of the Last Supper. (Another aside, since I’m into “Holy Week” descriptions here: last night as we left the nearby bar after a delicious dinner of thick creamed vegetable soup, mushroom risotto, and salad, we heard the drums of a procession sounding somewhere down the street. It must have been about 10:00 pm. I will say this: as an 18-year-old I would definitely have followed the sound and not missed the chance to observe a unique cultural and a possible spiritual experience; as a 69-year-old who had walked 13.5 miles carrying about 15 pounds on my back, climbed over 50 “floors,” spent a couple of hours dealing with taxis, directions, hospital rigamarole, and medical parlance, I pretended not to hear the drums and not to be curious, choosing rather to head to a comfortable bed in a warm place on a night when I didn’t need to set an alarm for 6:07 am but could, instead, sleep in until 7:30-ish.)

Of course I’ve taken another “bird walk”–a term a former colleague used to employ for digressions. I left off with us on the way to the hospital where, once delivered, everything seemed so expedited as compared to in the states. Boom, boom, boom. Registered, off to X-ray, off to assessment, in comes the doctor. Leaving the hospital within an hour and a half.

Of course, what you really want to know is the diagnosis. Nothing broken. Ginny pretty much knew that. No talk of meniscus (and here, folks, I’m out of my element; I was dealing with vocabulary clearly beyond my ken, but Ginny was absorbing it and that’s what counts, right?). Verdict? No surprise: tendonitis, swelling of the tendons, no? Inflammation. Cure? Nothing unexpected, really. Same thing she has been doing. Ibuprofen every 8 hours, preceded by some ranitidine. A larger elastic knee brace than the one she had been using which was too tight. An immediate “no” to the idea of any professional massage to the knee. (And did we hear a secret “sigh” with regard to pilgrims who take on too much with the Camino? Perhaps. Was she met with a great deal of compassion? Hardly. No scolding, but no “congratulations for being a dreamer; you’re going to be fine.” At least the physician didn’t say the dreaded words “your Camino is over.” Nor did she demand a certain number of days off. To the question of “can we return to the trail on Friday” the response was: “Depends on how she feels.”

Ginny was concerned about payment. Not about being able to afford it, but wanting to know how/when she would be billed. Unfortunately for her (though Ginny would never try to “get by” with something intentionally…), I happened to have noticed that the address the hospital had recorded on her official documents–like her discharge papers–was 100% nonsense and there was no way in god’s good earth that a bill would ever have reached her. Let me explain: her name was typed correctly, and there was only one number incorrect–a misreading of a “7,” placing a “1” instead at the end of her address. And the “N” for “north” was correct. The rest, though? Gibberish. A bunch of consonants strung together to represent “Shore” and another bunch to represent “Duluth,” the “D” being the only correct letter. Both the “MN” and “EEUU” (for USA) were missing. The keyboardist must have set her fingers on the wrong keys and, not knowing English, she didn’t notice. My guess, anyway. As I say, unfortunately I noticed the discrepancy and we provided the correct information once again. The bill is likely, now, to reach its destination…

To sum up as far as the hospital visit went: no miracles there; a small amount of reassurance, but very small. Best part: it was efficient. We might have had similar results in the US as far as treatment plan, but the service here was three times faster. Thank God for even small favors, right?

The next miracle, though, was a result of needing to take another taxi back to our new home. I can’t remember now if our new taxi driver overheard us speaking in English and a few words jumped out at him or if I asked him directly, but before I knew it, he popped this question (in Spanish): “Wait. Do you need a massage therapist? I know one. I go to him regularly.” And he pulls out a card for “Joaquín.” “Si queréis, yo le llamo. Pero… va a ser difícil posiblemente. Mañana y pasado mañana son días festvos.” (“If you like, I’ll call him for you. But it’s going to be tricky because tomorrow and the day after are holidays.“) Before the cab ride was over, we had an 8:30 am appointment for the next morning. No later. Joaquín had been planning to take off first thing in the morning for Irún, the Basque Country, a couple of hours north, near the border with France. But if we could do it first thing, then ok. We were grateful.

We didn’t know just how grateful we had reason to be!

Ginny was exhausted and ready to pick up some ice, maybe get carry-out at the bar (and by now you are figuring out, right, that a “bar” in Spain isn’t the equivalent of one in the US.” One can get wine and tapas or even a full meal in a bar, but can just as easily order coffee and a pastry. Ginny wanted–thought she wanted?–peace and quiet and, especially, a chance to ice her leg. She wasn’t even interested in food. Ah, but then we saw this one and that one, with smiles, how-are-yous, and the distractions began, all so very good for the soul. And if the body is going to heal, the soul must be involved as well. In the end, we must have spent a good hour and a half, perhaps a bit more, in the bar having dinner and splitting half a liter of sangría. Home to ice, to get situated, to chat with Lisa, to settle in for the night. I was out like a light. It was no problem sharing a queen bed with Ginny; we’ve done it often enough in the distant and the not-so-distant past at cousins’ reunions. Only oddity here: the pillow was one very long one. We would have to do without flipping it during the night. Small price to pay. No snorers. No fumbling around in the dark. No wondering on which side the ladder was located to climb up to or down from that upper bunk. Biggest risk at the Airbnb?  Getting used to the luxury….

Massage therapist to the rescue (we hope!)

On to the next miracle. And I’m not referring to Ginny being able to walk the half mile or so to the therapist’s treatment room. It was not a pretty sight. Morning is always the worst time for her knee and the 46-degree rainy morning didn’t help things. (To those of you who might think we are not getting into the Holy Week scene sufficiently, let me say: Ginny is experiencing her own Via Crucis and I am one of the bystanders witnessing the walk; also, for my part, I knew when I limped out of bed this morning that I had better check my right toe. I had put a blister patch on it a good five days ago. The instructions say to leave in place until the band-aid falls off–and shouldn’t it have done so by now?–but I couldn’t resist. When I had a look-see, I realized why I was feeling pain; the blister on the side where the two toes rub was–still is–pretty full of whatever it is blisters are full of. I patched with some moleskin and found that once my socks and shoes were on, I was pretty good to go. Anyway: we will not be forgetting the story and reality of the Passion even if we don’t participate to any great extent in the local festivities. (Which, by the way, seem to be relished more with a spirit of “keeping traditions” than with strong spiritual overtones. But who am I to really know that such is the case?…)

We arrived at the locked entryway to Calle Santander, 4, and, while studying which of the buzzers we should ring, a gentleman appeared coming towards the glass door. We were about to meet Joaquín (can we agree on this? No more accents on that “i” as it’s a bit tricky and time-consuming to get them there. ¿Vale? That work for you? Good thing!). And here’s what we learned about Joaquin in the course of the the near 90 minutes that we spent with him: that he is the chief physical therapist for the Burgos men’s soccer team! That he attends all their home games and most, if not all, of their away games. The walls were covered with his credentials, with photos of the team, and with drawings and thank yous from patients (he definitely used the word “patients” and not “clients” in the course of his conversation).

You may recall that the doctor said “no massage.” Or at least no massage on the knee; on other parts, ok, if that gave some relief. Have you ever ignored a doctor’s advice? Have you found yourself having more confidence in a health professional who was not a medical doctor per se? I trusted Ginny’s assessment of Joaquin and she trusted him, and so did I. Again, my translating services were extremely useful. What Joaquin did was assess the situation, do a bit of poking and prodding and analyzing. He was not, in other words, doing what one might call deep-tissue massage (not that I’m any expert on the terminology or the treatment, having had only two or three massages in my whole life, but… I’m doing my best here), so not totally disregarding the doctor’s orders.

“Tolera las agujas?” He asked me. “Is she okay with needles?” I translated and she said she was.

Summary of the visit: Joaquin did some deep-tissue needling (Colleen, your mom said you’d had some great experience with it, and she knew about it also because of Wayne’s therapy practice) on both front and back of the knee as well as on the buttocks where where some kind of “pyramid-like muscles” (something like that! My physiology knowledge and terminology is non-existent!) was very tight due to the body trying to compensate for the injured knee). Ginny’s face, of course, was down flat on a soft cloth which may have muffled any groans she might have been uttering, but in general, she indeed did “tolerate” the needles very well. As he worked, Joaquin could notice how things were loosening up. And also: many strips of KT tape–pink, how nice!–were strategically placed after more assessment (I took a few photos of the brilliant workmanship, but I’m guessing that Ginny won’t want those shared with the general public….) Biofreeze was sprayed. Cautions were given: no limping or, for sure, Ginny’s Camino will be over. Over. How to avoid the limping? Forget the ibuprofen. Not strong enough. Ice! Ice! Ice! Three spots, three times/day, for 15-20 minutes. No carrying of the pack, at least for now. Joaquin suggested a stronger medicine, suggested she not wear the knee brace. He wrote down instructions for today through next Tuesday, by which time she will have weaned herself from the NSAID drug he recommended at a 3x/day rate. Some white tape was put on top of the pink, the former to be removed in two days or at any moment if it proves to be uncomfortable, the latter to remain on for… well, until it starts peeling and seems totally useless.

We learned that massage therapists in Spain do not get or expect/accept tips. Joaquin found that practice very odd indeed. He was adamant about telling us that we would be charged the same rate he charges his own clients, that he is–and we believe him–honest and truly wants to see his patients be able to continue living their passions as a result of his work. We have his phone number and he urged us to be in touch via WhatsApp if we have any questions. And this: he wants us to send him a picture of us taken in front of the cathedral in Santiago. After sharing with us some photos of his French bulldog , he sent us on our way so he could shower and pack for his trip. We, on the other hand, were lucky to find a farmacia de guardia (an on-call pharmacy) quite close, open and serving a large area of this closed-down-for-the-holiday city.

Money in our pockets after a stop at an ATM, food in our bellies after a stop at the “bar,” ice gracially given at said bar, we returned to the apartment to ice, wash clothes, and share these 18 hours of miracles with you. Their telling may not have brought you to tears as the living of them has brought us, but hopefully they have not put you to sleep either.

We are ever grateful for your thoughts and your prayers. (And if, as sometimes happens, you have forgotten the prayer part, it’s never too late to begin. We have a long journey ahead of us!)

Your comments on these posts are also very much appreciated. I’d love to respond to each and every one, but the truth is this: impossible! Know that they are read (those placed directly in the Comments section at the end of each blog are much more easily accessible to me than those placed on Facebook where yours truly is at her most inept. Email is great, too, but please forgive the lack of response from me. For being with us in spirit and for your encouragement, we are most grateful.)

As for posts from Tuesday, April 16th and the first part of Wednesday, April 17th, I still hold out hope of completing them and sending them off to you. Stay tuned.